I want there to be things in my work that people can access, but also hidden secrets.
—Jim Shaw


Quotes from the interview with Jim Shaw (20.06.2023)

On theatrical backdrops

“Once they deemed to be like too messed up or too specific to rent out, they sold those theatrical backdrops. And I thought, I'm going to have to use some of these. They're just so perfect. What I first was buying were these sort of idyllic American suburban scenes that looked like they were from Leave It to Beaver, except they were all cracked and full of marks. I was interested in that sort of representation of the inherent nostalgia in the Republican appeal from Reagan to Bush and then onward to Trump of this past American greatness, where they were ignoring the fact that that greatness was largely due to the New Deal, which was as close to socialism as America has gotten.”

On hair and wigs

“There are competitions among like, especially, African American hair artists. And I've long had an interest in such things. We have a friend who is a high level chocolate maker, a pastry chef, and he was the coach for the US pastry team for several years. And they finally won the Coupe du monde. In our neighborhood, there's this thing every year called the Rose Parade, where they have these floats that are decorated with flowers and seeds. They all develop these aesthetics that are very particular and very much devoted to defying gravity. The hair competitions and the dessert competitions, they want to make something that looks impossible to exist. That was an inspiration.”

“Looking at all of the men of the 1890s, the robber barons, they had these insane facial hair things that were their sort of masculine identity and represented power in some way.”

On The Wig Museum - click here to watch the video

On politics

“Back in the 1970s, there was this feeling that too direct political art was problematic. So political art changed from being direct like it would have been in the 1960s because you were dealing with the Vietnam War. By late 70s, some of that hellishness had passed and art sort of shied away from that direct thing. And I felt like the march towards having the Gulf War was something that called for a return to the political. I was also enamored of the way that political cartoons from the 19th century were based on historical references to classical imagery, and on more surreal elements of visual punning. And I'd been working with my dreams for a decade and at that point I realized just how much visual punning was involved in dreams, you know, where the visual similarity of something would pop out if you drew it. It's a reach of political language that wasn't hammering it too directly.”

“Seeing the rise of neo-Nazism in eastern Germany after the wall fell or the stuff that was happening in Russia, I was thinking, when is the fascist group in America going to start? And it really was. But it wasn't until Trump that it really boiled over. It connects to the momentum we live in now, and the feeling that something has fallen apart or is defeated. It’s like an inevitable aspect of fall of status that people will get to be more nationalist and more totalitarian and more fascist. There's a description in the War of the worlds, of how the Martians had been looking with envy on earth and that they'd been lying in wait. They had their machines here already. And I feel like Fascism's been lying in wait since 1945 to make a direct resurgence. And, you know, we're pretty much back to 1939.”

On men

“I can tell you from experience that male dominated paintings don't sell very well. You know, female dominated paintings will sell better, for sure. I think it's partly because masculinity is this aggressive force.”

On drawing

“By the time I was going to art schools, the rendering aspect of drawing was really minor. I took the requisite 2 to 3 years of figure drawing. But when I was starting to draw comic stuff, I realized that I was stuck with working from photographs. And so I used the dream drawings as a way of getting better at just pulling it out of my head and onto the paper.”

“So the more I can render something correctly, there's a couple of motivations. One is so that the things won't look like thrift store paintings unless I want them to. Because the accidents, once you're working in that realm, really stand out. If you make a mistake on perspective, it's going to jump out at you. I was looking at some of the old Dutch paintings from the 1500s. And a lot of times they'd work so hard to get the face exactly right that the fact that it was sort of floating near where it should be, was kind of weird and stood out. I also had a student once who wasn't very skilled at rendering, but he was painting subjects from his life as a guy in the tourist industry. And he said: ‘I'm not the kind of artist who's like: Mommy, mommy, look at what I can do.’ And I realized, well, I guess I am that kind of artist: ‘Mommy, Mommy, look at what I can do.’”

On himself

“Being stuck in the past is kind of normal. We're rooted in stuff that we were affected by as children. Self-hatred is a major part of my work. I'm like a self-hating narcissist, I think. I guess I'm not the worst narcissist in the world. I could never imagine thinking that I ought to be president or something like that.”

On vacuum cleaners

“The vacuum cleaner can represent the void. But it's also a force that is sucking you in, like consumerism.”


On Thrift Store Paintings - click here to watch the video

On society - click here to watch the video